Written by Jeanne Willis, Illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen Press Ltd, 1997
There was a tree that grew so high
It tickled the moon and stroked the sky,
It poked the sun and scratched the stars,
It played with Jupiter and Mars.
Did You Know? It takes 30 days for a sloth to digest one meal.
On the top of that tall tree is a sloth who is slowly climbing down the tree. A Boomslang snake asks him where he’s going and he announces that he’s heading to the bottom of the tree for his birthday party. Boomslang tells everyone and all the animals swing into action to prepare for the party. The baboons bake the cake and the Potteroos make him a pair of beautiful shoes. Everyone brings something and they wait beneath the tree in anticipation, but Sloth is unbearably slow. Tired of waiting, the guests start the party without him and light the five candles on his cake. Sloth continues to climb downward and months go by. When he finally reaches the ground, all the guests have gone. He’s a full year older and the surprise shoes are now too small.
Author Jeanne Willis has an impressive catalog of published books that includes stories for older children and teens as well as picture books. Part of her appeal comes from her whimsical and playful take on things that would otherwise seem commonplace. The idea of a sloth being so slow that he arrives a year late for his own birthday party is pretty funny by itself, but then Ms. Willis makes it more fun by adding some unusual animals as party guests, including fruit bats, pangolins and potoroos (which she spells as ‘Potteroos’). The story is told in a rhyme that is full of repetition and fun words, making it a joy to read.
The artwork, from Tony Ross, is energetic and detailed, with so much to look at that sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. His style reminded me of the illustrations of Quentin Blake and Tomi Ungerer, making it an excellent fit for a comical story. One unusual element of the artwork is that the book begins with an older man and two children looking at the tree from afar and it ends with them walking through the jungle carrying Sloth’s shoes and a piece of cake, presumably having just picked them up. This framework was not explained or even referenced at all in the story and I don’t know its purpose. I enjoyed this book, but wouldn’t call it a favorite.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that if you’re just too slow, you’re going to miss out on things.